Snowfall in Arizona for the second time in three years has improbably delayed the early action at the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
As a result, none of the showdowns involving the match play event's top seeds have gotten underway. Set up in a March Madness-style one through 16-seed format, the possibility of an upset of the most extreme magnitude is much more feasible in professional golf than college basketball.
ESPN's Justin Ray highlighted just how volatile this tournament can be with regard to who ultimately emerges as champion:
Justin Ray @JustinRayGC
Filling out a #MatchPlay bracket? Good luck. As many double-digit seeds have won (3) as 1-seeds in the event's 14-year history.2/19/2013, 10:11:27 PM
Ray also points out that at least one No. 1 seed has gone out in the first round in each of the last seven years. That makes it worthwhile to gauge how feasible each of these upset scenarios is with an extra day in store.
4. Tiger Woods (1) vs. Charles Howell III (16)
What was so impressive about Woods' victory at Torrey Pines in his last PGA Tour appearance was that he didn't have his "A-game" on the final day, yet still cruised to his 75th Tour win despite stumbling to the finish.
Whatever was initially holding him back from being the dominant force he once was seems to be less governing now. Woods has started the year putting brilliantly, and assuming he got his driver straightened out in the few weeks he's had off, he should take care of business against Howell.
This is the ultimate competitive, grinding tournament format. Although Woods isn't exactly a Ryder Cup dynamo, he has won this particular tournament three times—but not once since 2008.
Some may suggest that is due to parity in golf, but with the emergence of Rory McIlroy and plenty of other stellar youngsters, you can bet that Tiger wants to prove he can still hang. There were shades of that at the Farmers Insurance Open, but can he put it together this many times in a row, one-on-one, against such high-quality opponents?
Some might argue due to Woods' recent hiatus and the strong start Howell had to the season with two top three finishes that this one has all the makings of a stunner.
Tiger is back, though—I think. And I believe he'll prove it in this event—hopefully culminating with a showdown with McIlroy in the final.
3. Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Shane Lowry (16)
The only reason McIlroy is a bit of a concern is because he simply hasn't gotten many competitive rounds in this year—two to be exact. The current top-ranked player in the world missed the cut at the European Tour's event in Abu Dhabi paired alongside new Nike teammate Woods.
Doubts over his ability to adjust to the new equipment weren't silenced after that result, but McIlroy seems confident with the work he's put in, as reported by the AP's Doug Ferguson:
I’m actually much happier with how I’m swinging the club...The clubs were performing fine in Abu Dhabi, it was just the fact that I wasn’t swinging at my best. But I did a lot of good work with Michael [Bannon] over the past 10 days, and I feel like I’ve turned a corner with my swing. I’ve got it back on track, and that’s ultimately what’s going to help me play better.
As Ferguson notes, Lowry and McIlroy have known each other since playing junior Irish golf events. As a result, both are equipped to dealing with whatever extreme weather is thrown their way.
The Thursday forecast indicates that the low will be 34 degrees with a slight chance of precipitation. Since both are used to difficult conditions, Lowry may be at even more of a disadvantage.
Lowry also enters in poor form, having missed his previous two cuts.
Even though match play is far different and McIlroy hasn't flashed the brilliance that won him both major tour money lists last season, he should be able to dispatch of Lowry fairly easily. Not that McIlroy particularly cares, but it will go a long way in quieting critics of his new clubs.
2. Luke Donald (1) vs. Marcel Siem (16)
Of all the top seeds, Donald enters having played most recently. It wasn't necessarily a good experience, though, as he posted an uncharacteristically-high final round of 75 at the Northern Trust Open to fall into a tie for 16th.
For someone who is typically center cut off the tee and money with the flatstick, the Englishman struggled mightily on the greens and in finding the fairway at Riviera.
But Donald has a track record of being one of the steadiest players in the game, and his opponent is quite the opposite of that.
Siem is borderline elite in terms of talent, but his on-course demeanor and attitude have gotten in his way more than a couple of times. Last year, though, he won his second European Tour event at the Alstom Open de France—his first victory in eight years.
2013 hasn't been as kind thus far for Siem, unfortunately. He has failed to improve on his 26th-place finish at the Volvo Golf Champions event.
Of course, that means the volatile German is due, right? There aren't many better suspects for an unpredictable and potentially shocking result as Siem, who is playing in this event for the first time.
When he gets hot and gets some positive momentum and emotion flowing, the 32-year-old can beat anyone. Perhaps the liberty of a match play format will put Siem more at ease and allow him to pull off the improbable against the recently shaky Donald.
1. Louis Oosthiuzen (1) vs. Richie Ramsay (16)
Both of these players are essentially hit or miss, with the Scotsman Ramsay being a rather extreme case of that. Having just turned professional in 2007, Ramsay caught fire on the European Tour in the latter third of the 2012 campaign.
Five weeks after a missed cut at the British Open, he posted a tie for sixth at the Johnny Walker Classic, then his first victory at the Omega European Masters, followed by a joint runner-up effort at the KLM Open.
Those three events shot him up the world rankings, but since then, it's either been a missed cut or a pleasing result.
Oosthuizen could very well have had two majors in the bag if not for Bubba Watson's heroics in last year's Masters playoff. But the sweet-swinging South African is known for having a bit of a lax work ethic—his coach's words, not mine!—which leads to some inconsistency despite his limitless talent.
His schedule picked up a lot down the stretch in 2012 due to the Race to Dubai, but if there's any No. 1 seed that's vulnerable in the first round, it's Oosthuizen at this early juncture of the season. Ramsay isn't exactly red-hot entering this event, but anything can happen in match play.
If I had to pick one of the top players between Woods, McIlroy, Donald and Oosthuizen that might come into this tournament not quite sharp enough to make a deep run, I would have to go with the latter.
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